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Three NHL Playoff Teams That Recovered From Slow Starts

Jerry Lai - USA TODAY Sports

Not every playoff team dominated the whole season. These teams organized turnarounds to make the playoffs.

Throughout the course of the season, the NHL standings change as teams fight for a playoff spot. It is common for teams to move in and out of a playoff spot as they either succeed or struggle. Some teams perform well enough to remain in a playoff spot through most of the regular season.

This year, there were several successful teams that began their seasons with slow starts. These teams were outside of the playoff picture at the Christmas break, but each team was able to recover and clinch a postseason berth.

Anaheim Ducks

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the teams that turned their seasons around, the Anaheim Ducks were the most impressive. Anaheim won only one of their first 10 games and finished the month of October as the worst team in the Western Conference with merely four points.

Anaheim’s offense was practically nonexistent at the beginning of the season. During their 1-7-2 start, the Ducks suffered five shutout losses, and no Anaheim player scored more than three points. The Ducks were still in last place by Christmas with a record of 12-15-6.

Despite their slow start, the Ducks rallied to win the Pacific Division for the fourth consecutive year. After their first 10 games, the Ducks’ scoring improved, and they eventually became one of the most powerful offenses in the NHL. After Christmas, the Ducks had the best goal differential in the league; they scored 50 more goals than their opponents.

The Ducks’ top forwards led their offense. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler scored a combined 125 points after Christmas to lead Anaheim to their fourth straight Pacific Division title.

Although the Ducks lost to Nashville in the first round of the playoffs, their season turned around. The Ducks managed to recover from a last-place start to a record of 46-25-11.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports

After winning the Eastern Conference last season, the Lightning were expected to continue their dominance. Due to several injuries to their forwards, the Lightning struggled through the first few months of the season. Within the first two months, Alex KillornTyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin, Cedric Paquette, and Brian Boyle missed at least some time due to injury.

At the beginning of 2016, the Lightning were in sixth place in the Atlantic Division with a record of 18-16-4. As they recovered from their injuries, their record improved. Tampa Bay’s recovery included a nine-game winning streak beginning in mid-February. By the end of the season, the Lightning recovered from their early slump, securing a playoff spot with a record of 46-31-5.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, they did not have the same level of success at the beginning of the season. Despite having a deep roster with Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang, the Penguins produced mediocre results. After a lackluster 15-10-3 start, the Penguins fired head coach Mike Johnston. 

Under new coach Mike Sullivan, the Penguins’ play improved. Pittsburgh went 33-16-5 under Sullivan, finishing in second place in the Metropolitan Division with 104 points. 

The Penguins were dominant in the second half of the season. Like the Ducks and the Lightning, the Penguins soared after the Christmas break. Pittsburgh scored a league-high 166 goals after Christmas.

Pittsburgh’s late-season surge continued through the end of the season. The Penguins won 14 of their last 16 games, finishing with a record of 48-26-8. Their success culminated in a Stanley Cup title win.


TeamRecord in 2016Goal +/- in 2016
Tampa Bay28-15-120

Each of these three teams had a strong end to their seasons. Anaheim and Pittsburgh had the two highest goal differentials in games played in 2016, while Tampa Bay’s differential was fifth-highest. All three teams experienced a long winning streak during the second half of the season. 

Edited by Jazmyn Brown, Curtis Fraser.

Who did the Ducks lose to in the 2015-16 Playoffs?
Created 6/19/16
  1. San Jose Sharks
  2. Minnesota Wild
  3. Dallas Stars
  4. Nashville Predators

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